When I was chairman of Hertfordshire Police Authority, I believed that the most important aspect of the job was my responsibility for policing.
Now we’re into a new era. The old police authorities have been swept away and in their place are Police and Crime Commissioners, like myself, who are directly accountable to the electorate.
With the introduction of the new “police and crime” role, I realise how wrong I had been – the most important aspect is not “policing” but “crime.” Of course the two are intrinsically related and part of my role is to hold Hertfordshire’s Chief Constable to account over how the county is policed. But I believe policing in Hertfordshire is generally excellent, so that leaves me to consider my thoughts about crime which I recently discussed in my annual lecture at the University of Hertfordshire. The truth is there is no neat definition that sums up what is ‘a crime’, and none I have found give sufficient priority to the victim.
What is or is not a crime changes by where you are and what era you live in.
What is a breach of the law in one country may not be in another – anyone who has considered a holiday to a country where Islam is the predominant religion will likely have given consideration to any local laws about the drinking of alcohol. Moreover, as social attitudes change, the criminal law can be introduced or abolished. Take the use of seatbelts – once it was optional in the UK, now it is mandatory.
After a long period of seeing crime figures going down, both in Dacorum and across Hertfordshire, this year we may be seeing this trend change with crime levels tipping slightly upwards.
This may be in part because the Force has been changing the way reports of crimes are dealt with following concerns about the accuracy of crime recording by police nationally.
It may also be because victims of certain “hidden” or “silent” crime types, such as sexual or domestic abuse, have been reluctant to report these but are now coming forward in increased numbers.
I welcome increase where these are the case particularly if it means that the police’s response is being more focussed around the victim rather than the crime. Knowing that reports are being dealt with sympathetically and recorded correctly is important for public confidence in policing and important to the victim as well. These factors may explain some of the rises and it may be that, after a period of readjustment, we see crime levels plateau in Dacorum and Hertfordshire rather than continuing to rise. Be reassured though, whether going up or going down, the numbers involved are very small and you still very unlikely to become a victim in this county.
Be also reassured that I am not complacent about crime.
As I have said before in this column, the Chief Constable Andy Bliss assures me is the best way to combat crime is to protect local policing – which I have done.
I also note with great pleasure that the Force is looking to recruit some 80 Police Community Support Officers.
Hertfordshire’s PCSOs do a superb job and I believe they are essential to the crime fighting effort and one of the reasons why we have seen anti-social behaviour in Hertfordshire drop by more than a quarter in the past year. The recruitment is required to replace PCSOs who have left, many of whom have gone on to become police officers.
So I would urge anyone thinking about becoming a PCSO to consider a quote by Harvard lecturer Marshall Ganz that I reflected on in my aforementioned lecture: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”